Once thought to be a hoax, Paris city leaders and law enforcement are preparing for an announced “White Unity Conference,” set for Oct. 9 in Paris and organized by the Church of the Ku Klux Klan. The event was announced on the chapter’s website, and screenshots of the event’s flyer have been shared across social media. A representative of the klan, who would only identify himself as Brother Frank, confirmed the planned event to The Paris News. Although advertised as taking place “in Paris,” Frank said the conference will be hosted by a property owner with land outside city limits.
Prior to Frank’s confirmation, Paris Mayor Steve Clifford said he was incredulous about the event happening, and he believed it was an internet hoax. Sought later Monday for comment, Clifford deferred to City Attorney Stephanie Harris and City Manager Grayson Path. Path did not return a request for comment by press time.
Interim Paris Police Chief Randy Tuttle said safety would be at the forefront of his mind should the conference become public or turn violent. In 1994, Tuttle was a lieutenant in the department when he saw a klan rally in front of the Lamar County Courthouse firsthand.
“We would take appropriate measures to maintain safety,” Tuttle said. “Should anything develop in the future, we will deal with it accordingly.”
He said recently he’s seen news stories about rallies in other towns, but he would be surprised if anything like that happened in Paris.
“We absolutely do not want anything like that to happen here,” Tuttle said. “I don’t think anyone does.”
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Clifford put in place a rule that public gatherings of more than 100 people must apply for a permit with the city in order to congregate, an order that would not apply if the conference takes place on land outside city limits. Councilor Renae Stone said because it is unclear what the Covid-19 pandemic will look like come October, city officials can’t be sure whether that rule will still be in effect for in-city events anyway.
“They do have freedom of speech,” Stone said. “You just have to make sure no laws are broken.”
Council members Clayton Pilgrim, Linda Knox and Gary Savage declined comment. Mayor Pro Tem Paula Portugal, Councilor Reginald Hughes and Sheriff Scott Cass were unavailable for comment by press time.
Robert High, president of the Paris NAACP, said his organization is vehemently opposed to the klan and its racist and hateful actions and beliefs.
“The NAACP renounces the KKK, everything it stands for and those who promote its existence,” High said in an email. “We oppose any efforts to form a chapter in Paris and Lamar County. One of the things that hurts me beyond words is the thought of individuals in this community who would support an organization that promotes such atrocities.”
The Ku Klux Klan, which is a registered hate group with the Southern Poverty Law Center, is known as the oldest and most infamous such group in the United States. With a history of racism, the klan’s main target is the Black community, but it has also attacked Jews, members of the LGBTQ community and immigrants.
The Church of the Ku Klux Klan’s only physical address on file is a Post Office box in DeKalb. The chapter capitalizes on its location in Northeast Texas to work with similar groups in Arkansas and Oklahoma, according to the SPLC. The center says klan chapters are known to change their name amid infighting, and the DeKalb group has changed its name three times since 2018.
The klan has come to Paris before. After a young Black man was killed in 2008, protests erupted as residents said the killing was racially motivated. White supremacists faced off with members of the New Black Panther Party as protestors advocating for murder charges against two white men gathered outside the Lamar County Courthouse in 2009.
Nearly 15 years earlier, about 20 klansmen came to Paris on June 3, 1994, and gathered in front of the courthouse, led by Grand Dragon Michael Lowe, according to The Paris News archives. The rally was part of a tour the klan was making around East Texas and included a stop in Cooper earlier that day.
Klan members “peddled T-shirts, stickers and gave out Klan literature to a few purchasers,” a June 5, 1994, article states, but violence did not break out. A few members of the Paris chapter of the NAACP were present at the rally, including Gerald Stone who said he came out to “stand up for what I believe in.”